A post-international Premier League weekend delivered a fairly tepid round of fixtures. Until Monday night that is, where Everton vs. Newcastle produced the most thrilling game of this season so far. All 10 grounds played You’ll Never Walk Alone, we had another ridiculous handshake-gate, and there were more calls for goal-line technology. All in a weekend’s work for the Barclays Premier League.
Everton 2-2 Newcastle:
Best game of the season so far. And as with any exciting games, mistakes are required. Entertainment is so often borne out of poor defending or goalkeeping, and that was the case here. Newcastle had been robbed of key men in Tim Krul and Fabricio Coloccini after injuries on international duty, and defensive depth is a major issue for Alan Pardew. With several multi-functional players in his squad, getting the team selection right was crucial, especially whether to persist with both Ba and Cissé, or to pick between them. In the end, he perhaps got the decision wrong by going with Cissé as the lone front man. Whilst the Senegalese striker produced wonder goals and winners galore last season, he came in to this game without a goal in his last 6, and is simply not suited to playing the lone striker role. There is a very good reason why the archetypal goal poacher has all but disappeared from modern football – they rarely offer enough in the build-up phase, rely on defensive mistakes or perfect service for goals, and are simply facing fitter and technically better defenders than they were 15 years ago. Demba Ba, on the other hand, was exceptional as the lone striker in the first half of last season, and his introduction as a genuine centre forward (he has played wide left, or as a striker-left winger hybrid since Cissé was signed) changed the complexion of the game. Not only did Ba come on with a point to prove, but his introduction gave Yohan Cabaye a runner to find, and the Frenchman produced 2 exquisite through balls in the first 7 minutes of the second half – probably more than the sum of his contribution in the last 3 league games – it’s been a very slow start to the season for him. Pardew deserves a lot of credit for his half-time alterations. Last season, his tactical adjustments within games , and pre-game plans for different oppositions, was extremely impressive. Although he was serving a touchline ban for this game and his team missed his influence during a poor first half display, he made important half time changes – Ba on for Marveaux (switching to 442), and switching Anita and Perch around. The Dutchman moved to right back, with Gutiérrez in front of him (Perch moved to central midfield). This immediately helped to stop the outstanding link-up between Baines and the ever outstanding Steven Pienaar (dubbed “Bainaar”), although Pienaar moved in-field to create Anichebe’s goal, as well as brilliantly setting up a wrongly disallowed goal for Fellaini. The Exectioner’s Bong believes Everton may be too reliant on Baines, and keeping that combo quiet is all-important in getting results against The Toffees.
Reading 1-3 Tottenham:
A first league win for André Villas-Boas, and a convincing one at that. Jermain Defoe spoke after the game about how Spurs’ new training ground has given everyone a lift, and the enthusiasm was evident from the first whistle here, as Spurs finally fielded a balanced midfield trio. Many Spurs fans took to Twitter after the starting lineup was announced, bemoaning Adebayor’s continued exclusion, and Gallas’ continued inclusion. However both decisions were vindicated as Defoe scored two typical goals of precision with power. Reading have gone 25 days without a game, and they looked rusty and lacking in sharpness. In their last league game at Chelsea, they played at a very high tempo, looking to press Chelsea’s back four and midfielders, and it very nearly saw them leave Stamford Bridge with a point (or more). Here, they were slow to press, left Pogrebnyak isolated in attack, and found themselves defending too high, with no pressure on the ball. The half time change to 442, with Adam le Fondre being introduced as a channel-running front man, gave Reading a regular out-ball and led to a series of corners (which Spurs defended very well). The rotation in midfield was excellent, and Mousa Dembélé already looks one of the summer’s very best pieces of business. He glides past challenges, and is extremely comfortable getting the ball off his back four, because he always has his close control and 1v1 ability to fall back on, should be closed down. It remains to be seen if AVB will stick with Friedel and Defoe long term, when both Lloris and Adebayor would suit his style of football far more. Strangely, he has taken many long-term decisions already since taking over, yet persists with what is very much the short-term benefit (if any at all) in sticking with Friedel. An issue to watch out for in coming weeks, is if Kyle Walker’s defensive issues on the back post become a regular pressure point for opponents. Both Demba Ba and Hal Robson-Kanu have benefited from deep crosses to the back post, and it’s clear in the image below that Walker’s body shape is all wrong – he is not in a position to see both the ball and the man.
Arsenal 6-1 Southampton:
A resounding win for Arsenal, against a Southampton team given a nightmare start to their fixtures. Gervinho’s surprise selection in a central striker role proved a masterstroke from Wenger. This is not a role Gervinho is unfamiliar with. In the 2010 World Cup, Gervinho started in a central striking role in Côte d’Ivoire’s opening group game, a 0-0 draw against Portugal (Drogba was not fit enough to start) and he excelled with his work in the channels and with his dribbling in central positions. His ability to pull central defenders away from the middle, opens up space and angles for midfield players to arrive, as well as overloading opposition fullbacks and making more room for his side’s fullbacks to excel. Kieran Gibbs had a massively influential game here, as Nathaniel Clyne was constantly dragged out of position. Gervinho providing an additional striking option is more bad news for Chamakh, who now appears to be 4’th in the pecking order at best.
At the other end, Southampton again scored from one of their trademark back post crosses (as they did against Manchester United, despite Ferguson saying his team spent all week working on defending those situations). This goal was as a result of yet another Wojciech Szczęsny howler. The Pole has been left out of Arsenal’s upcoming Champions League trip to Montpellier, and Wenger suggested he wasn’t 100% fit, but his regular errors are alarming. Last season he was directly responsible for goals against Wigan, Fulham, and Tottenham, as well as conceding a penalty for a rash foul on Suarez against Liverpool, and he was very lucky not to have seen red for a late, last man tackle on Ashley Cole. He was sent off and then left out by Poland at this summer’s European Championships, and considering Mannone’s very solid start to the season with 3 consecutive league clean sheets, he is very lucky Wenger appears to regard him as his number one, although Wenger has sent out mixed messages on this topic in recent days.
“Wojciech is No 1 unless I change my mind, that is clear. That’s why he came back in goal. You cannot change a goalkeeper every time he makes a simple mistake.”
“Vito is very close [to being Arsenal’s No. 1], and he gets another opportunity now. He has belief and he has the mental strength to deal with that.”
QPR 0-0 Chelsea:
After everything that was made of this game, from whether two players would shake hands, to QPR welcoming Chelsea to a fiery atmosphere, this game turned out extremely low on quality. Di Matteo fielded the safest lineup possible with 2 defensive wide players in Ramires and Bertrand. The latter has done very well so far this season (3 starts in midfield), whereas Ramires has had an awful start. He was hauled off at half-time in the UEFA Super Cup defeat to Atlético Madrid and was extremely lucky not to be substituted at half time in this game as well. His performance did improve in the last 20 minutes though, after returning to central midfield in a 433, and with only 3 specialist central midfielders in the squad, he may be required to play many more games in central midfield. Defensively, both sides dealt with the minimal threat of their opponents very well, although Chelsea had 3 very good shouts for penalties. It appears to have reached a stage where Eden Hazard is simply drawing too many fouls in the box, and referees are skeptical about awarding penalties to him on such a regular basis. What exactly is the worth of one point to Chelsea in a title challenge? Almost nothing. Draws are practically worthless except against direct rivals, and using only 2 substitutes when Oscar was unused on the bench made no sense. Playing a defensive winger in every game is all well and good to keep the side in something resembling a balance, but 2 defensive wingers is not necessary in a game where only a win will do. Victor Moses should look at the amount of game time that Ramires and Bertrand are getting, and realise that if he is disciplined defensively, that he can oust the two of them and get himself in to the best XI. Torres storming down the tunnel after being substituted following a hopeless display was extremely poor from him. He should rather be thanking the club for removing all discernible competition from the squad so that he is the default starter, regardless of form. Let’s hope Daniel Sturridge receives some significant game time as a central striker in the coming weeks, and pushes Torres to either improve, or to the bench.
As for QPR, signs are good for the season ahead. Julio Cesar is a significant upgrade on Rob Green, Bosingwa has started well and is generally excellent whenever covering out of position, and Faurlín and Granero were oustanding in this game. For the second consecutive away game Chelsea had less possession than the opposition, with QPR enjoying 52.9% of the ball. The squad is looking very deep too, with M’Bia, Diakité and Hoilett all yet to really feature.